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The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science and What Comes Next Hardcover – 22 Feb 2007


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (22 Feb 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713997990
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713997996
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.6 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 380,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description

Review

'His critical judgments are exceptionally penetrating ... Read
this fascinating book and form your own judgment.'
-- Roger Penrose, author of The Road to Reality

'The best book about contemporary science written for the layman
that I have ever read ... Read this book. Twice.' -- Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times

About the Author

Lee Smolin is a pioneering theoretical physicist and the critically acclaimed author of The Life of the Cosmos and Three Roads to Quantum Gravity. He earned his Phd in physics at Harvard, before teaching at Yale and Pennsylvania State, and went on to help to found the innovative Perimeter Institute.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
FROM THE BEGINNING of physics, there have been those who imagined they would be the last generation to face the unknown. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By William Podmore on 16 Dec 2008
Format: Paperback
Theoretical physicist Lee Smolin notes, "One question that has bedeviled the [quantum] theory from the beginning is the question of the relationship between reality and the formalism", that is, between the real material world and our ideas about it. Smolin backs materialism against idealism, writing, "It cannot be that reality depends on our existence."

He attacks the idea that it is 'as though the universe had been designed to accommodate us'. The universe has evolved in a way that has produced the conditions that make our lives possible. This does not mean that it was designed, still less that it was designed for us.

Smolin tells the story of how the American physicist Freeman Dyson in 1947 read Einstein's efforts to construct a unified-field theory and decided that they were junk. Unfortunately he didn't have the nerve to tell Einstein this - but he should have done, because it might have helped Einstein to do better.

Currently, string theory is the leading paradigm in physics. But its research programme has found no grounding in experimental results or mathematical formulation. As one of its pioneers, Daniel Friedan, later wrote, "String theory cannot give any definite explanations of existing knowledge of the real world and cannot make any definite predictions. The reliability of string theory cannot be evaluated, much less established. String theory has no credibility as a candidate theory of physics." Smolin writes, "the existence of a population of other universes is a hypothesis that cannot be confirmed by direct observation; hence, it cannot be used in an explanatory fashion.
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100 of 103 people found the following review helpful By Charlie T. on 28 Feb 2007
Format: Hardcover
Lee Smolin is one of those rare physicists who writes a good story about his subject. He is also unusual because he works in an unfashionable area of physics, dauntingly known as "loop quantum gravity," and has avoided jumping on the string bandwagon. Most physicists today think that string theory is the ultimate "theory of everything," and Smolin claims that it is hard to get taken seriously if you don't ride this bandwagon. But he also thinks it is being ridden up a dead end, and that physics has made a fundamental wrong turning.

There's no sour grapes in any of this. He just wants people to be more open minded anbd look at other possibilities, not necessarily loop quantum gravity. And he does a brilliant job of explaining string theory itself. I particularly like his discussion of how there are an infinite number of solutions to the single theory of general relativity, and the infinite number of string "theories" ought really to be regarded as solutions to a single underlying theory we have not yet discovered.

But there's as much sociology as science in the book, and Smolin gloomily confesses that he can't see any reason why "an intellectually ambitious young person with an original and impatient mind" would want to be "limited to working in any of the current research programmes." If anything can inspire such people and get their imagination working "outside the box" this is the book to do it.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By P. M. MCGREAD on 8 May 2008
Format: Paperback
I am a eighteen year old about to embark (hopefully!) on a degree in theoretical physics. I found this book very refreshing as it addresses the fact that it is becoming impossible to distingush the legimately scientific and the plain crazy in scientific journals today. Smolin addresses some key issues that I have been having trouble with since embarking on my wider reading around the subject.
This book is articulate and the arguements are compelling, it is definitely worth reading for anyone with even a mild interest in physics.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Olly Buxton on 4 Jun 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If only more scientists wrote for popular audiences with the humility Lee Smolin does. Whilst it occasionally gets bogged down in the detail of its own material - there are more minutiae on particle physics here than most people will care for in a bedtime read - Lee Smolin's major points are clearly made and they ring like a bell.

In some ways this is a work of popular philosophy of science, not popular science itself: Smolin approaches his subject through the prism of the failings of string theory to coagulate over the last thirty years, but only in the loosest sense is this an attempt to prove string theory wrong and his own favoured research programme, quantum loop gravity, right. For one thing, he accepts from the outset that there are significant issues with his own programme.

Smolin's concern is more around the practice of modern physics; how the gradual disappearance of anything resembling testable empirical evidence has given way to ever more theoretical modelling which in turn has led to hypotheses of increasingly incredible (literally, that is) implications. For any variety of string theory to work (it is more of a cluster of similar possible theories, rather than a discrete theory as such) the mathematics require something like *eleven* spatial dimensions, some of which, it is variously hypothesised, must be so small as to be conceptually unobservable (the image we are invited to consider is dimensions which curl up into little donuts smaller than an atomic particle across), or which appear to require an infinity of alternative universes - a "multiverse" if you will - into which these dimensions can be projected.
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